‘Gupta’ slur to mayor

2013-05-08 00:00

“HEY Gupta, what are you doing here?”

This was the question directed at Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman that landed a Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) officer in hot water on Friday.

Rehman took offence at what he believes is a racial slur, while the officer in question, Zakhele Mbatha, maintains he spoke in jest and did not meant to offend.

The mayor opened a case of crimen injuria against Mbatha yesterday and wrote a letter of complaint to Transport MEC Willies Mchunu.

He told The Witness that the incident occurred on Friday, when he visited the RTI to renew his driver’s licence.

While waiting for his application to be processed, Mbatha allegedly accosted him and remarked: “Hey Gupta, what are you doing here?”

“I ignored the comment but he proceeded to an office and cracked a joke about Indians.”

Rehman said he was upset and confronted Mbatha, but had not wanted to make a scene. He asked Mbatha if he knew who he was, to which the officer allegedly replied: “Yes, I know … you are a Gupta.”

“I … told him I found his comments offensive and racist, but his response was: ‘You can go back to India and take offence; here in South Africa the country belongs to us’.”

Mbatha denied he said this.

Rehman said he walked away and reported the matter to the department’s head, King Gama, before leaving.

“A short while later I got a call from … Gama asking if the officer could come to my office and apologise.”

He initially agreed, he said, but then thought of the man on the street who might be subjected to the same treatment by the uniformed officer.

Rehman said he informed Gama of his change of heart and that he intended to lodge an official complaint instead.

Reached for comment yesterday, Mbatha insisted he had made the remark in jest.

“I was arriving at the office on Friday when I saw a long queue. I had just listened to the news and the issue with the Guptas was a hot topic.”

As he approached the queue, he noticed a well-dressed man, Mbatha said.

“I could not recognise him, but I knew the face from somewhere.

“He smiled at me and I jokingly said ‘Hey Gupta, what are you doing here?’. He said ‘What!’ and I replied ‘You look like one of the Guptas. What are you doing here?’.”

Mbatha said Rehman then asked him if he knew who he was.

“Thinking we were still carrying on with the conversation, I replied, ‘You know, the Guptas. They belong in India’,” said Mbatha.

“This was a joke. Everyone was speaking about it. It was not an attack. It was in reference to his appearance. He was dressed smart.”

Mbatha said he had explained this to Gama.

“I am willing to apologise. I understand that he could have been offended. I intended it as a joke in passing. I am willing to apologise if given the opportunity. Everyone at work, even my Indian colleagues, now call me Gupta.

“I was due to meet him on Wednesday, but he called Gama and told him he would take the matter up instead.”

In his letter to the MEC, Rehman speaks of the significant role that Indians played in the apartheid struggle.

“The ANC does not stand for this behaviour and I trust you will uphold its beautiful principle,” the letter states.

Rehman also indicated to Mchunu that he had consulted a senior advocate and would institute a damages claim.

He would also refer the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission and the Equality Court. “If he [Mbatha] doesn’t respect me as an individual he should at least respect the office that I occupy.

“He does not deserve to wear a uniform in the employ of the state,” the letter states.

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